The town of Whiteclay, Nebraska, population 12, has historically been one of the nation’s least economically diversified towns. Since its founding in the 1880s, the tiny enclave has had but one purpose in the world. It has provided the residents of the Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux reservation with high-octane beer, wine and liquor.


And almost since the first saloon opened, the town has served as a lightning rod for activists, social critics and up-and-coming politicians, all of whom have decried the apparent injustice of allowing a town located just a few hundred feet over the state line to openly provide a loophole to circumvent the law of a neighboring town. The Pine Ridge Reservation, since its establishment by the Laramie Treaty, has been dry. All alcohol sales have been strictly forbidden.


But recently, the opponents of Whiteclay’s raison d’être have had the wind in their sails. The Nebraska State Liquor Control Board recently voted, in a historically unprecedented move, to permanently revoke all licenses of the town’s four liquor stores. This will effectively end the sale of alcohol in Whiteclay and along with it, the town itself. Many view this as a great victory.


But many more are gravely concerned with what unintended consequences may ensue. Some long-time Native residents of Pine Ridge complain that hardly any of the activists are themselves Natives. They can pass a law, feel good about themselves, then go home, never revisiting the consequences of their efforts again. On the contrary, the Natives who deal with bootleggers, homemade alcohol poisoning and drunk driving have to live those consequences every day.

Categories: Native American Culture, Whiteclay

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